The Handshake Ritual Revisited

How to Update Your Handshake

Because I am eager to meet students, I’ve been shaking a lot of hands lately. I’ve volunteered for several mock interviews with both undergraduate and graduate students and in every case, I request that we start with the handshake.

I know. I know. It seems so elementary, but have you updated your handshake lately?

Although the research varies, I think we can all agree that a substantial part of communication is nonverbal, moving beyond the words you choose to your tone of voice and body language. And yet, when we prepare for interviews, we focus mostly on our words and neglect the other dimensions that we could bring into every conversation.

Think about it this way. In making hiring decision, if reading your resume were adequate, there would be no need for a phone screen. Further, if talking by phone were adequate, there would be no need for an in-person interview. Face-to-face conversations are most valuable, because they provide an opportunity for much greater communication. With a look in your eye, the square of your shoulders, the tilt of your head, you can say so much about your intentions, integrity, interest and the very first “statement” you make when you meet someone professionally is what you say or don’t say with your handshake.

Remember what you already know about the handshake:

  1. Begin by making eye contact with your interviewer.
  2. Walk toward your interviewer offering your hand as a formal gesture of good will.
  3. Web-to-web, grasp your interviewer’s hand.
  4. The handshake is two pumps.
  5. The person who initiates the handshake is the first to release.
  6. Handshakes are the same regardless of gender.

If your handshake is weak, it may be because you’re working from the wrist forward and your fingers alone cannot do the job. If your handshake is too strong or has too much action, it may be because you’re working from the bicep forward, which is better than just fingers, but still not a whole handshake. Your handshake should originate from your core and radiate from there.

Try this experiment with a partner.

  1. Stand facing your partner and check to be sure your body is square.
  2. If you are leaning forward with a left or right shoulder, adjust so that your shoulders are even and the front plane of your body is fully open.
  3. Have your partner sincerely ask you this question, “What are you really excellent at?”
  4. Then find that physical sense of excellence in your body.
  5. That’s where your handshake should come from.

When you know that you’re really good at something, you can feel it in your body. Often the sensation of excellence, or true confidence, lives in your center body, in your core. Most likely when you were asked to embody your own sense of excellence you took a stronger stance, held your body more upright and your head high. We call this “standing in your dignity.”

That’s where I want your handshake to come from.

Just before your interview, take just a moment to stand in your dignity and embody your excellence. You will not only offer a more powerful handshake, but you’ll bring an entirely different presence to the conversation. Remember, the reason you were invited to the interview at all was because your interviewer wanted to get to know more about you. Bringing more of you, what resides in your core center of strength as well as the ideas in your head and the words from your mouth will give your interviewer what he or she was hoping for, so don’t hold back. Be fully present.

And don’t miss the opportunity to bring an updated handshake. You’re better now than you’ve ever been. Take a minute to locate your current, right-now, sense of excellence and embody that. Then shake hands from your core center of confidence and introduce yourself fully as the MBA and high potential business leader you are.